Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

What methodologies do not solve


Organizations evolve through various phases in their existence. Good organizations have a continuous focus on how they do business and strive for improvement. One of the most common realizations organizations come to is the need to utilize standard methods and best practices in order to ensure higher quality outputs from its staff. While this is a correct realization, implementing these is where a lot of organizations go wrong. Let us explore.

A lot of organizations, when they realize the need for standard methods and best practices will send staff away to courses. In the case of project management, they may get sent away to do a certification in PRINCE2, PMP or Agile, for service delivery management, they may get sent out to get certified in ITIL. You get the drift. What I see many a time is this is sufficient and the organization will suddenly become followers of best practice. There is then wide-spread surprise and the reality turns out to be something different. Why then despite the obvious intent, do many of these initiatives fail?

The first thing everyone needs to appreciate is no methodology can ever cover all the practical scenarios an organization will face. Best practices are just that … best practices. Knowing the theory is all well and good. Reading a particular scenario and understanding it to answer questions is different than what someone will face in their regular role. There is no benefit of hindsight. In many situations, you have to make a decision on the facts at hand, which may not be full. Later, you may be required to account for those decisions to someone with benefit of hindsight. This requires not only understanding of methodology, but also an appreciation of how to apply it to various scenarios.

If you have studied information systems, one of the first things they teach is the theory of normalization. However, what they do not necessarily teach is in certain scenario, it is a more efficient to de-normalize parts of the system. For non-IT readers, I can equate this to child rearing. The best practice is to always keep a routine and not deviate from that, so you set clear boundaries of expectations. However, every now and then it is good to indulge your children slightly to build a warm reciprocal relationship with them. There is always fine balance here that requires judgement and constant review. What is best practice may not always be a good practice in certain scenarios.

I have seen selection of methodologies as a response to a project disaster or an attempt to cover gaps identified in a procurement process like responding to a Request for Proposal. That usually leads to selection of methodology from a very narrow focus. There is also a huge difference between selecting a methodology and adopting a methodology. Selecting one is on the easy end of the spectrum. Once selected, the organization may send some people to training. When these people come back into the organizations with new ideas, they challenge the established way of doing business. This challenge may go beyond what management had intended to address when it embarked on the process. Unless there is a willingness from management to re-examine the practices, then there is little or no value in selecting a methodology.

Methodologies do not solve any business problems. It is the people that absorb ideas, question existing practices, design improved processes appropriate to the organization and have the will to see it through that make the difference.

2 responses to “What methodologies do not solve

  1. Pingback: Methods to the Project Madness | beyondcenter

  2. Pingback: 5 different types of Project Managers « Project Management in Practice

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